Eye exams available for low-income, uninsured families

Posted: Monday, October 29, 2001

Things are literally looking brighter for low-income, uninsured working Alaskans. Starting in March they will be eligible to receive free eye exams through the Vision USA program.

Vision USA is a national service program of the American Optometric Association (AOA) which provides the free examinations to low-income, uninsured working Americans and their families. It is a volunteer program where optometrists across the country donate their time and facilities to provide comprehensive eye exams to adults and children who qualify for the program.

"It's very important that an adult has a normal eye evaluation every two years," said Rob Fleckenstein, O.D., Alaska state coordinator for Vision USA."

According to statistics provided by the AOA, 44 million Americans lack health insurance. Nine out of 10 people examined through the Vision USA program in past years were found to be suffering from one or more health or vision problems.

Sight threatening conditions were diagnosed in more than 8 percent of the exams, and optometrists were able to detect other health problems affecting vision, like diabetes and brain tumors.

The program is in its 12th year and has been operating in Alaska for many years, Fleckstein said. On the national level, more than 300,000 Americans have received eye exams through Vision USA and more than 7,000 doctors of optometry volunteer their services to the program, according to a report from AOA.

Applicants must meet the program's four eligibility requirements to qualify. They must have a job or live in a household where at least one person works, they must have no insurance covering eye exams, have income falling below an established level based on household size, and they must not have had an eye exam during the past two years.

Preregistration is required and AOA is accepting applications through January. During that time, the Alaska Vision USA program is trying to promote the event and solicit new doctors to participate, Fleckenstein said.

Applications for the program are available online at www.aoanet.org, through the mail at Vision USA, 243 N. Lindbergh Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63141, or by phone during January at (800) 766-4466.

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